Lawmakers With Tiny Victory Margins Step Up Fundraising

Patrick Murphy won his U.S. House seat last November by fewer than 2,000 votes. As he prepares to seek a second term, the Florida Democrat has boosted his fundraising to try to win re-election by a wider margin.

Murphy raised $557,912 from January to March, 58 percent more than the $352,449 he brought in during the same period two years ago. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, he received donations from the banking industry he now oversees; he raised $22,500 from financial political action committees during the first three months of 2013, more than the $21,000 he brought in for his last campaign.

Freshmen and other vulnerable lawmakers are ratcheting up their fundraising, often from the industries they help oversee, six months after the last election and 18 months before the next one.

The early pace illustrates how lawmakers are adapting to the permanent presence of independent groups that emerged in 2010 and 2012, raising and spending unlimited sums mostly on attack ads. Outside groups spent $316 million during the last off-year election of 2010, up from $69 million four years earlier, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They spent $1 billion in 2012, most of which was directed at the presidential race.

A robust fundraising operation also can be used to discourage competitors, both in the general election and in primaries.

Circling Sharks

“In an era where candidates are as concerned, if not more, with primary challenges on their right or left, early money is critical for keeping them off the other side’s target list,” Republican consultant Alex Vogel said. “A low campaign account balance is like putting blood in the water with sharks around. It’s asking for trouble.”

House Democrats, who need a net pickup of 17 seats for a majority, took an early lead in the money chase when their fundraising arm brought in $22.6 million from Jan. 1 to March 31. Their counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, raised $17.5 million. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee entered April with $8.9 million still in the bank, compared with $8.1 million in cash for the Republicans.

Murphy’s Race

Murphy challenged Republican Representative Allen West, a favorite of the anti-tax Tea Party movement who had raised $19.4 million, in the most expensive House race in the nation, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political giving. The Democrat prevailed by 1,904 votes, the fifth closest race of 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

A spokeswoman for Murphy, Erin Moffet, said the congressman has co-sponsored legislation to require nonprofits spending money on campaigns to disclose their donors, and companies to get shareholder approval for political spending.

“It is an unfortunate reality that members of Congress are forced to raise massive amounts of money to support their campaigns,” Moffet said. Murphy, a former auditor, “has much experience in the banking and financial services industries and they have always been supportive of him and having his CPA experience in Congress.”

Financial Sector

Among the political action committees donating to his re-election coffers are those from Capital One Financial Corp., which gave $1,000, and Regions Financial Corp., which cut a check for $3,000.

Republican Jackie Walorski of Indiana was elected by less than 2 percentage points over Democrat Brendan Mullen in the 10th closest race. A freshman, she’s more than doubled her fundraising during the first three months of the year. She raised $159,054, compared with $68,440 two years ago.

A member of the House Armed Services Committee, she raised $17,000 from defense industry PACs, more than double the $6,500 they gave to her entire first campaign. Among her backers are the PACs from Northrop Grumman Corp., which gave $5,000, Boeing Co., which donated $1,000, and Honeywell International Inc., which contributed $4,000, according to Federal Election Commission records and the Center for Responsive Politics.

“This is a well-choreographed dance,” said Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director. “Members expect to receive funds from the industries they regulate and conversely the industries expect to support those committee members and to be asked for their support.”

Walorski’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Guyton, didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

Veteran Fundraising

Longer-serving House members also moved this year to fill their campaign coffers after almost losing in 2012.

Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican re-elected by 2 percentage points last year, raised $519,034 in the first quarter, more than three times the $166,157 taken in during the same period in 2011.

“During the last race we built up our donor base and we have been able to use it from the start of this campaign,” said Kristin Strohm, a finance consultant for Coffman’s campaign.

Democrats are eying Coffman’s district, which backed President Barack Obama in 2012, as one of the 17 that they need for a 218-seat majority. Democratic officials are promoting Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker who raised $514,477, almost as much as Coffman.

Representative John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat, tripled his first-quarter fundraising to $264,135 from $88,097 two years ago after prevailing last November by 1.2 percentage points, the seventh-closest outcome in the 2012 House elections.

Super-PAC Influence

Other lawmakers are bulking up financially in anticipation of attack ads from super-PACs, which can raise unlimited sums, and nonprofit organizations aligned against them.

Representative Daniel Webster, a Florida Republican, raised $143,669 in the first quarter of 2013, compared with $30,290 in 2011. A super-PAC funded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, spent $2.4 million against him in the 2012 campaign. Webster won by 3.5 points.

“I want to be ready for that,” Webster said. “It may happen again, maybe from some other group, who knows? So I start early and stay on it. I think it’s important, and so we were able to have a good quarter.”

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